Something to smile about

NDIANAPOLIS — The scene at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday afternoon looked more like a child’s birthday bash than a trip to the dentist.

Elementary students ran and danced around the venue. There was pizza, music — even an inflatable zebra mascot making merry.

The children wore T-shirts displaying words like smile, brush and floss, as they lined up for their turn in the dental chair.

About 200 underprivileged children from Indianapolis-area schools received dental services, ranging from teeth cleaning to cavity fillings, during the Team Smile event Wednesday thanks to a pack of volunteers, including a small army from Greenfield.

Greenfield students, dental professionals and community members were on site to fill all the events’ gaps, from keeping children entertained to treating their dental needs.

And Jennifer Platts of Greenfield organized the entire event. As an employee of Team Smile, it’s her job to work with professional sports teams to organize dentistry events for children.

The organization works to create a fun atmosphere in which children can receive dental care without anxiety.

For the young students receiving the dental services Wednesday, it was more of a party than a trip to the dentist.

Each group of students spent two to three hours at the basketball arena. Boomer, the Pacers mascot, was on hand with the Indiana Pacemates to dance and play with the students. In addition to the members of the Pacers family, there was a disc jockey, a balloon artist, face painting and pizza.

“They have this whole party around them, so the 20 minutes they spend in the chair, and they’re not happy, they totally forget about it,” Platts said.

The happy atmosphere was part of the volunteers’ efforts to make the students comfortable in a setting where they might otherwise have been uneasy.

Michael Kamp, a New Palestine native, works for Henry Schein, a dental equipment distributor based in Indianapolis. The company provided all the dental equipment used to make the day possible.

“We do this once a year, and it’s a great way to provide oral care to some children who might not be able to get it,” he said. “And we make it fun for them, so it’s not scary like going to the dentist can be.”

He enjoyed watching the students dance to the Cupid Shuffle and play basketball on the practice court.

He hopes the children will relate the fun they had with good oral hygiene, prompting them to adopt healthy habits like brushing and flossing at home.

Last year, dental professionals provided about $150,000 of dental work. Organizers are still tallying the total for this year’s event, but it is expected to be in the same ballpark, Platt said.

“It went really well,” she said. “We had a lot of excitement for the kids.”

The aspects children seemed to enjoy the most were the mascots, she said, one of which was played by a local junior high student.

Josh McCord, an eighth-grader at Greenfield Central Junior High, spent much of the day dressed as a life-size zebra named Chomper. The zebra is Team Smile’s mascot, and the children loved him, Platts said.

McCord as Chomper was quite popular, with students running to hug and dance with him as soon as he donned the suit.

“The kids really like (Chomper),” McCord said. “They jump all over me.”

Organizers didn’t have permission in 2014 to allow participants on the practice court, so being able to use it this year made a huge difference, said volunteer Alexa Jeffries, a Greenfield-Central High School graduate.

Going down the elevator to play on the court was exciting for the children, she said.

“They were jumping up and down, and you could hear them screaming on the way down,” she said.

The Ivy Tech Community College freshman plans to continue to help with the event in years to come and at similar events.

“I love kids, so it’s a lot of fun for me to hang out with them all day long,” she said.

Jeffries and her friend, Lizzi Platts, a senior at Greenfield-Central High School and Jennifer Platts’ daughter, were responsible for documenting the day’s events on Instagram and Facebook.

But they made sure to take some time out to play.

“We have a lot of fun,” Lizzi Platts said. “I like watching the kids, especially watching them dance.”

The event seeks to serve the same students each year, so dentists are able to develop an ongoing treatment plan and meet their continuing dental needs.

“Hopefully, by the time they go to middle school, they’ll have all healthy teeth,” Platts said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.